HC Deb 29 October 1980 vol 991 cc467-8
4. Mr. Whitney

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the present situation in Afghanistan.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Maker)

There are still about 85,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan. They continue to face strong resistance. There is no sign that the Soviet Union is prepared to take account of the wishes of the Afghan people. A settlement will necessitate the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops and freedom for the Afghan people to choose their own Government.

Mr. Whitney

Although I am grateful to my lion. Friend for that reply may I ask whether he agrees that it is vital to maintain international pressure on the Soviet Union to cease its aggression against Afghanistan? To that end, will he mobilise international support for the idea of a conference—perhaps on the lines of last year's Lancaster House talks—so that the people of Afghanistan might be afforded the same rights of self-determination as the people of Zimbabwe now enjoy?

Mr. Blaker

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of maintaining pressure on the Soviet Union. In the past 11 months the world has shown admirable recognition of the need to do that. The matter will come up again, within a week or two, at the United Nations General Assembly. A conference could be a useful move at the appropriate time. However, it would be important for all the relevant parties to be represented at such a conference, including representatives of the Afghan resistance. At present, I see no indication that the Soviet Union is prepared for a conference along those lines.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Has the Minister got any up-to-date figures for the number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and elsewhere?

Mr. Blaker

It is estimated that there are about 1 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. That is an indication of the feelings of the Afghan people towards the Soviet occupation and the Babrak Karmal regime.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not a scandal that 11 months after the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the gallant resistance fighters of that country have to take on a major slice of the Soviet war machine, including T72 tanks, Hind helicopter gunships, MiGs and Tupolevs, with virtually bare hands? Is it not time for the British Government to state openly that they will supply arms of the required calibre to help those resisting Soviet imperialism?

Mr. Blaker

I agree about the importance of the role that the Afghan resistance plays. The Afghan resistance movement is better equipped than it was at the beginning of the year. However, it would not help the resistance movement if we were to be specific about its sources of assistance. It is clear that Soviet forces have suffered several thousand casualties and we have had reports of substantial losses of helicopter gunships belonging to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Shore

As regards maintaining pressure on the Karmal Government, which on all the evidence has not increased its internal support, does it occur to the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends that this matter could be raised in the credentials committee of the United Nations? Will the hon. Gentleman also explain why he decided to vote for the Pol Pot Government?

Mr. Blaker

The Pol Pot question is an entirely separate matter. As regards the credentials of the Karmal regime, there was clearly insufficient support for that question to be raised.

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